A new report which looks at how hospital PPE supplied to protect against the threat of COVID-19 has found that women experience significantly more issues than men.

Research reveals that masks, visors, gloves and glasses are creating problems for female healthcare workers.

Hospital workers reported PPE-related injuries for skin breakdown from wearing masks, as well as overheating and dehydration from wearing multiple layers of gowns and aprons.

The study is the result of research from Loughborough University and the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trusts that surveyed more than 400 clinicians.

The key messages from the report:

  1. PPE needs to be designed for the people who wear it - differences between women and men
  2. PPE needs to support communication – seeing, hearing, talking
  3. PPE needs to be included in task design – loss in dexterity with double gloves, risk of errors
  4. PPE injures healthcare workers – heat stress, skin breakdown, musculoskeletal injuries

More than 33,000 people, including 300 health and social care staff, died in the UK during the first COVID-19 wave – between April and May, 2020.

Professor Sue Hignett, of the Loughborough Design School, who led the study, said: 'Even with the intense demands on clinical staff during this period we received responses from over 400 clinicians, and importantly from 292 women (72%) which is representative of 70% NHS workforce.

'Women reported significantly more difficulty with communication than men when wearing surgical masks and visors.

'They told us, “Apparently masks for smaller faces don’t exist!”.

'We also found significant differences for women in the fit of safety glasses – including over prescription glasses. Other issues for both women and men included problems in operating clinical equipment due to double gloves, such as sutures, central line insertion, as well as using touch screens to record information and change drug doses.'

Prof Hignett added that NHS staff should be supported to tackle infections in the same way firefighters are protected against occupational hazards.

She said: 'Firefighters have special training for working in PPE and are trained to managed fatigue and overheating. Our NHS staff do not seem to have been supported in this way and I am really worried that they have suffered avoidable occupational injuries. There needs to be human factors/ergonomics research to design better PPE for our NHS staff.”

Read the full report, published in the journal Anaesthesia: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/anae.15198

We have some top tips from a consultant dermatologist on keeping your skin healthy while wearing masks in our August issue.